Skip to content


That awkward moment when a brand goes bad

Fox Agency Think Tank room.

“It is a sad truth, but we have lost the faculty of giving lovely names to things.”

— Oscar Wilde.

A rather gloomy outlook from Mr Wilde there, and that was long before we had unique URLs and Twitter handles to take into consideration. But there are some pretty damning recent examples which would indicate that maybe the father of aesthetics had a point.

Don’t get us wrong, we’re sure all brand names are developed with the best intentions. But in the cryptocurrency world, the ‘Number Only Used Once’ acronym ‘Nonce’ led start-up crypto firm Nonce Finance into all sorts of difficulty. Possibly a little research wouldn’t have gone amiss?

Then again at the other end of the scale, it’s easy to imagine the painful research, surveys, and focus groups which led Standard Life Aberdeen to reinvent itself as ‘abrdn’, in a bid to appear more ‘modern, agile [and] digitally-enabled’.

But hey, it got us talking and maybe there’s no such thing as bad publicity after all. Providing you’re cool with the world not being able to pronounce your brand due to a lack of vowels or spurning you as a pack of criminals. Chances are these guys just made a straight-up howling mistake.

And that’s ok, therein lies the beauty of the rebrand

Because not every brand nails it the first time. Amazon for example, waved a magic wand over its previous identity as ‘Cadabra’. Pepsi was formerly known as ‘Brad’s Drink’. Sorry Brad. And our personal favourite ‘Back Rub’ became the search engine we all know and love, give it up for Google. So ballsing up the brand name the first time doesn’t necessarily mean certain death. But to be honest it’s a headache we could all probably do without.

So, now we come to our next question. And it’s a biggy

How do you know a good name from a bad one? Well, there are a few sensible things to check-off first, like if it’s already taken (a must). Are there any negative or confusing connotations to contend with? If you’re entering international waters, does it translate? Or at least not translate into anything offensive. (Mitsubishi released the ‘Pajero’ in Spain. In Spanish, pajero means w*nker. Awkward).

In fact, car brands are classics for screwing up. Mazda released a car called ‘Laputa’ which for Latin countries translates as ‘the prostitute’. And though the Vauxhall Nova fared well here in the UK, in Spanish ‘Nova’ literally means “doesn’t go”. Face palm.

Give us strength, it really shouldn’t be this difficult

Consider how we acquire speech so naturally as children, knowing organically the correct way to structure language. Take adjectives in a sentence, and how we inherently know the order in which they should be placed. Mark Forsyth’s ‘The Elements of Eloquence’ tells us that adjectives are typically ordered: opinion-size-shape-colour-origin-purpose then noun.

So, you don’t say, “Look at that brick little red old beautiful house.” You say, “Look at that beautiful little old red brick house.” We all know the order in which these adjectives should be placed without even trying. So why when it comes to naming a brand do we insist on overthinking things and making life so damn difficult?

Does the future hold the answer?

Without getting all Mystic Meg, we’re predicting a future where, in the fight for unique domains, brands must resort to names including letters, numbers and symbols, moving away from meaning to accommodate the practicalities of our digital age.

However, until this eventuality becomes reality, let’s give a good old British two-finger salute to Mr Wilde and plumb our creativity, marketing savvy and good old common sense into creating brand names which go far beyond the realms of the ‘lovely’.

For Fox Agency smart thinking in this, or anything other area of branding, get in touch.